Vyvanse vs. Adderall: Understanding the Differences

Vyvanse vs. Adderall: Understanding the Differences

Authored by Oto Idah, / Medically Reviewed by Dr. Conor Sheehy, PharmD, BCPS
Last Updated: July 7, 2021


What is ADHD?

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by persistent patterns of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity that significantly impair an individual’s daily functioning. This condition typically manifests in childhood and can persist into adolescence and adulthood. The core ADHD symptoms can be broadly categorized into two main groups: inattention and hyperactivity-impulsivity.

Inattentive symptoms include difficulty sustaining attention to tasks, frequent careless mistakes, forgetfulness in daily activities, and general disorganization. Hyperactivity-impulsivity symptoms manifest as excessive fidgeting, an inability to stay seated, impulsive decision-making, and difficulty awaiting one’s turn.

It’s important to note that ADHD is a heterogeneous disorder, meaning its presentation varies widely among individuals. Some predominantly exhibit inattention and others predominantly hyperactivity-impulsivity, but many experience a combination of these symptoms.

ADHD is multidetermined, involving a combination of genetic, neurological, and environmental factors. Genetic predisposition plays a significant role; those with a family history of ADHD are more likely to develop the disorder. Neurologically, differences in the structure and function of certain brain regions, particularly those related to attention and impulse control, contribute to the manifestation of ADHD symptoms.

ADHD poses unique challenges and can profoundly affect various aspects of an individual’s life, including academic and occupational performance, relationships, and overall quality of life. However, with appropriate diagnosis and management, those with ADHD can lead fulfilling and successful lives. Effective therapeutic interventions include behavioral therapy, psychoeducation, and ADHD medications like Vyvanse or Adderall, which target the neurological aspects of the disorder to alleviate symptoms and improve daily functioning.

Vyvanse, a prodrug of dextroamphetamine, and Adderall, a combination of amphetamine salts, are both central nervous system stimulants. These ADHD medications enhance the activity of neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and norepinephrine, in the brain, promoting better concentration, impulse control, and overall cognitive function in individuals with ADHD.

This article comprehensively compares Vyvanse and Adderall, offering insights into their mechanisms of action, effectiveness at managing symptoms, and potential side effects. By exploring these aspects of each medication, readers can gain a nuanced understanding of the ADHD treatment landscape. Armed with this knowledge, individuals and their healthcare providers can collaborate to make informed decisions about the most suitable medication for their specific needs and health considerations.

Mechanisms of action

Both Vyvanse and Adderall increase dopamine and norepinephrine, boosting focus and attention. They are also both prescription stimulant medications with the potential for dependence and abuse.

Vyvanse’s mechanism of action

Vyvanse (lisdexamfetamine dimesylate) is a prodrug, meaning that it is inactive until it undergoes a metabolic transformation in the body to its active form, dextroamphetamine. The release of dextroamphetamine is delayed due to Vyvanse’s combination of this active ingredient and the amino acid L-lysine. As dextroamphetamine slowly detaches from this amino acid over 10 to 14 hours, it creates a smooth and sustained alleviation of symptoms throughout the day. This active compound primarily stimulates the release of neurotransmitters like dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain, enhancing concentration and attention while mitigating the hyperactivity and impulsivity associated with ADHD.

Adderall’s mechanism of action

Adderall is a combination of several amphetamine salts (dextroamphetamine saccharate, amphetamine aspartate, dextroamphetamine sulfate, and amphetamine sulfate) and is a central nervous system stimulant. Its mechanism involves blocking the reuptake of neurotransmitters and increasing their release, resulting in heightened levels of dopamine and norepinephrine. This dual action contributes to improved focus, attention, and impulse control. Unlike Vyvanse, Adderall works directly and quickly. It is short-acting, has a rapid onset, and requires multiple daily doses to maintain its benefits. It is more suitable for situations that demand quick bursts of concentration, such as giving a presentation or working on a tight deadline.

Key differences and similarities

Both Adderall and Vyvanse increase neurotransmitter activity. However, Vyvanse’s unique prodrug formulation and slow release offer a smoother onset and longer duration of action. Additionally, some argue that Vyvanse’s mechanism of action, which is tied to the body’s metabolism, could make it less likely to be misused or abused than Adderall.

These differences make Vyvanse the preferred choice for individuals seeking continuous symptom control without pronounced peaks and crashes. However, Adderall may be advantageous for those needing immediate action or flexible dosing. When choosing the most suitable medication for managing ADHD symptoms, the differences between these drugs should be carefully considered in consultation with healthcare professionals.

Efficacy of Vyvanse and Adderall

Both Vyvanse and Adderall exhibit high efficacy in managing ADHD symptoms.

Efficacy of Vyvanse

Numerous double-blind, placebo-controlled studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of Vyvanse in managing ADHD symptoms across diverse age groups. Clinical trials have shown that it significantly improves attention, reduces impulsivity and hyperactivity, and enhances executive functions in individuals with ADHD. Studies also suggest its efficacy in managing disruptive behavior disorders and binge eating disorder. Additionally, its potential to minimize the risk of misuse and abuse due to its metabolic activation process has been investigated.

Efficacy of Adderall

Adderall has likewise been extensively studied and proven effective in treating ADHD. Research indicates that it enhances cognitive function—including sustained attention, concentration, and impulse control—in ADHD patients. Its combination of dextroamphetamine and levoamphetamine creates a dual-action mechanism, leading to rapid and sustained improvements in ADHD symptoms. Adderall’s versatility is evident in its effectiveness across various ADHD subtypes, making it a widely prescribed and recognized treatment option. Studies also showcase its efficacy in treating narcolepsy (excessive daytime sleepiness) and cataplexy (sudden loss of muscle tone while awake). It is important to note, however, that Adderall isn’t a cure for narcolepsy, and its effectiveness varies across individuals.

Comparing efficacies

Vyvanse’s gradual release and conversion to its active form may yield a more stable and sustained therapeutic effect, potentially minimizing fluctuations in symptom control. Its lower abuse potential and manageable side effects further add to its appeal. However, individuals needing quick bursts of focus might find Vyvanse’s slow onset a drawback.

Adderall immediate release, with its dual-amphetamine formulation, provides a rapid and robust response that is ideal for situations demanding quick bursts of concentration. However, its short duration and potential for dependence require careful consideration. In contrast, Adderall XR may be used for longer-acting control. The choice between Vyvanse and Adderall thus often depends on responses to treatment and individual preferences regarding aspects such as dosing schedule and duration of action. Ultimately, the benefits of these medications should be evaluated in consultation with healthcare professionals to tailor treatment plans to the specific needs and preferences of individuals with ADHD.

Dosage and administration

Understanding the appropriate dosage and administration of Vyvanse and Adderall is paramount for effective ADHD treatment. This section provides insights into how to take these ADHD medications for optimal results.

Dosage and administration of Vyvanse

Vyvanse is typically administered once daily in the morning, with or without food. The recommended 30-mg starting dose for adults may be titrated in increments of 10 or 20 mg weekly, based on individual response. The maximum recommended dose is 70 mg per day. The dosage for children, which starts at 20 mg daily, varies based on age and weight. Vyvanse is formulated as chewable tablets that come in one of six strengths (ranging from 10 to 60 mg) and capsules in one of seven strengths (ranging from 10 to 70 mg). The amount of powder in a Vyvanse capsule varies with strength. Due to their prodrug nature, Vyvanse capsules should be swallowed whole with water and not crushed or chewed.

Dosage and administration of Adderall

Adderall is generally prescribed in divided doses taken one to three times a day. The starting dose for adults is often 5 mg once or twice daily, with gradual titration based on response. The maximum recommended dose is 40 mg per day. Pediatric dosages are determined by age and weight and typically start at 2.5 to 5 mg once daily. Adderall comes in two forms: Adderall immediate-release tablets and Adderall XR (extended-release) capsules. Immediate-release tablets, which come in strengths ranging from 5 to 30 mg, can be swallowed whole or dissolved in water. The extended-release form, available in the same range of strengths, should be swallowed whole.

Advantages and disadvantages

While both Adderall and Vyvanse are effective, the once-daily dosing of Vyvanse may be more convenient than Adderall’s multiple daily administrations, improving treatment adherence, particularly for those with busy schedules or prone to forgetfulness. However, individual responses to medications vary, and healthcare providers consider lifestyle factors and personal preferences when determining the most suitable treatment plan.

Adverse effects

Because individual responses to Vyvanse and Adderall vary, healthcare providers often consider these differences when tailoring treatment plans to minimize adverse reactions and optimize therapeutic outcomes.

Common adverse effects of Vyvanse

Vyvanse is generally well tolerated, as its smooth onset of action as a prodrug reduces the likelihood of abrupt negative effects. Most Vyvanse adverse effects are mild and transient, and many dissipate with continued use. However, some individuals experience more persistent effects. Commonly reported side effects of Vyvanse include insomnia, decreased appetite, nausea, headache, dry mouth, and irritability. Less frequently, users experience abdominal pain, constipation, increased heart rate, and anxiety.

Common adverse effects of Adderall

Adderall shares some of Vyvanse’s common side effects, including insomnia, decreased appetite, nausea, and dry mouth. However, due to its dual-amphetamine composition, individuals taking Adderall are more prone to increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure, anxiety, nervousness, irritability, and jitteriness than those taking Vyvanse. Additionally, Adderall has a shorter duration of action, which may contribute to a more pronounced and abrupt onset of adverse effects. This short duration of action can also lead to rebound fatigue and cravings in some patients.

Comparing potential risks

Vyvanse and Adderall share common adverse reactions. However, Vyvanse’s smoother onset as a prodrug may foster a milder, more gradual, and potentially more tolerable experience for patients. Adderall’s quicker onset may prompt a more abrupt manifestation of reactions.

Adderall XR and Vyvanse are controlled substances classified by the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as Schedule II drugs, indicating that they have accepted medical uses but also have significant potential for misuse that can result in physiological dependence. Individuals must communicate openly with their healthcare providers about any negative effects they experience to allow for dosing adjustments or consideration of alternative ADHD medications if necessary.

Drug interactions for Vyvanse and Adderall

Vyvanse and Adderall have similar drug interactions, most notably with monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) and substances affecting urinary pH. However, the specific nature and severity of interactions can vary for each individual.

Vyvanse interactions

Vyvanse may have severe interactions with MAOIs. Additionally, substances that alter urinary pH, such as ascorbic acid or sodium bicarbonate, can affect the excretion of Vyvanse. Caution is advised when combining Vyvanse with medications that may increase heart rate or blood pressure, as this could lead to hypertensive episodes. Dose adjustments may be required if individuals on Vyvanse are also taking antidepressants or antipsychotics due to the possibility of potentiation (i.e., enhanced responses to the medication). Therefore, individuals must inform their healthcare providers about all medications, supplements, and herbal products they are taking before starting Vyvanse.

Adderall interactions

Adderall has the same drug interactions with substances that affect urinary pH and should be used cautiously with MAOIs due to the risk of hypertensive crises. Moreover, medications that alter gastrointestinal acidity, such as proton pump inhibitors, may impact the absorption of Adderall. Caution is also warranted when combining Adderall with other stimulant medications, as additive effects may occur. Individuals taking Adderall should be cautious when taking tricyclic antidepressants and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (the most commonly prescribed antidepressants), as these combinations increase the risk of serotonin syndrome, a severe drug reaction. Medications affecting blood pressure or heart rate may also prompt additive effects, so close monitoring is required for Adderall taking such medications. Like Vyvanse users, Adderall users should communicate their complete medication history to their healthcare providers to mitigate potential interactions.

Comparing interactions

Vyvanse and Adderall demonstrate comparable drug interactions. Healthcare providers play a pivotal role in assessing an individual’s medication profile and adjusting treatment plans accordingly to minimize the risks of adverse reactions and reduced efficacy. Open communication about all medications and supplements is essential for the safe and effective management of ADHD with Vyvanse or Adderall.

Cost and availability

Often, one’s choice of Vyvanse or Adderall boils down to cost.

Cost and availability of Vyvanse

As a brand-name medication, Vyvanse has a relatively high price tag, and individuals often rely on insurance coverage to help mitigate its expense. A 30-day supply of Vyvanse ranges from hundreds of dollars, depending on dosage and insurance coverage. Unfortunately, no generic version is currently available in the US, further impacting its affordability. Patient assistance programs and discount cards from the manufacturer may offer some financial relief for those without insurance coverage.

Cost and availability of Adderall

Unlike Vyvanse, brand-name Adderall is also available in generic versions, which contain the same amphetamine salts and are generally more affordable. These generic alternatives mitigate drug shortages and contribute to cost savings, particularly for those without comprehensive insurance coverage. Generic Adderall can cost as little as $50 per month, while the brand name may run as high as $200.

Comparing costs and availability

With multiple manufacturers producing its generic forms, Adderall may be more accessible and cost-effective for those seeking treatment for ADHD. Vyvanse, a brand-name medication with no generic equivalent, may come at a higher cost, requiring users to have a comprehensive insurance plan or to explore patient assistance programs for financial assistance. Despite its hefty price tag, however, Vyvanse may be worth considering if cost isn’t your primary concern and you are seeking fewer side effects and a longer duration of action.

The Rx Advocates can help you pay for Vyvanse and Adderall

At The Rx Advocates, we know that many people need Vyvanse or Adderall to treat the symptoms of ADHD or other conditions. Both drugs are quite expensive, even for those with health insurance, making some people hesitant to take them.

We can help in cases like these. Our program offers financial help to those eligible through patient assistance programs. We believe that no one should have to choose between paying for medications that improve their quality of life and covering everyday living expenses. If you or your child have been prescribed Vyvanse or Adderall and you are struggling to pay, we may be able to help! Please contact us today to learn more about our program and check your eligibility.


In summary, Vyvanse and Adderall are both effective medications for managing ADHD, though they differ in mechanism, dosage, side effects, and cost. While Vyvanse offers a smoother onset and is available only as a brand-name drug, Adderall has the advantage of generic alternatives, potentially making it more cost-effective. Choosing between these two drugs should be a collaborative decision of individuals and their healthcare providers and should include considerations such as individual needs and insurance coverage. It’s crucial to tailor your treatment plan in consultation with your healthcare provider to optimize efficacy and minimize side effects. Open communication and ongoing evaluation with your mental health clinician remain paramount for successful ADHD management.

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